Who are the Druze?
Druze is a member of a religious sect, related to the Ismaili Muslims, living in the mountains of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. The Druzes (also Druses) number about 200,000.
The sect originated in the time of al-Hakim, the 6th imam of the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt and North Africa, who ruled between 996 and 1021. Al-Hakim was a strange man, noted both for his generosity and moralizing and for his cruelty. He disappeared in 1021 in mysterious circumstances, presumably having been murdered. As imam of the Fatimids, he was, according to Ismaili doctrine, the divinely appointed leader, guide, and guardian of the faith. In later life he claimed he was an incarnation of the Divine itself and began to propagate this belief through missionaries. There grew up a cult of al-Hakim, of which the Druze faith is the continuation.
The name of the sect comes from al-Darazi, who was the first to proclaim the cult publicly. He laid emphasis upon the esoteric truth taught by the cult and exalted al-Hakim to the status of a supernatural being.
Hamza Ibn Ali
The man who gave form to the Druze faith was Hamza Ibn Ali, al-Darazi's contemporary and rival. Al-Darazi had considered al-Hakim to be the incarnation of the principle of creative Divine Reason always present in the world and had spoken of him as imam or leader. Hamza, however, went beyond this established Ismaili theology. He viewed al-Hakim as identical with the Divine itself, as the very indefinable and ineffable One to whom even the creative Divine Reason is subordinate. He taught that the One had always been present in the world through a series of past incarnations, of which al-Hakim was the last and the one who would initiate the Day of Judgment. He claimed for himself the role of imam, the principal servant of the One, who would lead men to truth.
Hamza's teaching emphasized immediate and direct communication with the One as a living presence; hence the Druzes call themselves Muwahhidun (Monotheists, or "Oners"). Hamza denigrated the Prophet Mohammed and Ali, both of whom he considered teachers of false doctrines. Hence the Druzes were considered heretics. They were persecuted in Egypt, and the Druze community was able to sustain itself only in the mountains of Syria and Lebanon.
Beliefs and Practices of the Sect
Although the Druzes consider the Bible and the Koran inspired books, they have a Scripture of their own that supersedes these. It is composed of 111 pastoral letters by Druze leaders, under the title Rasail al-Hikma (Discourses on Wisdom). The Druzes in time became a closed community having its own law, prohibiting either conversion or apostasy, forbidding marriage with outsiders, and keeping its principal doctrines secret. The community is divided into two groups- the uqqal, or initiates into the secrets of the faith, and the juhhal, who are not initiated.
Outsiders may attend community religious services on Thursday evenings, but the secret ritual of the group is never performed before a non-Druze. The basic moral code consists of seven commandments enunciated by Hamza, the most important being always to speak the truth. Druze belief, however, permits dissimulation about one's religion in a hostile environment.
The Druzes have been an important factor in the history of Syria. At times they have ruled independent states in the area and have offered strong resistance to any who sought to subdue them. As late as the 1920's they staged a major armed uprising against the French mandate authorities. At present there are many Druzes in the United States, where they have gone to escape religious and political difficulties in Syria.